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DeFranks: Irish need style points to climb (Oct. 19)

Matthew DeFranks | Thursday, October 18, 2012

Style matters – and not just in a Shamrock Series sort of way.

Following the release of the initial Bowl Championship Series (BCS) rankings Sunday evening, what was once a pipe dream can realistically be thought about: a national championship berth. In order to get there, however, No. 5 Notre Dame will need to jump three teams, two of which can finish blemish-free.

The Big Ten’s demise this year has negatively impacted Notre Dame’s strength of schedule. A “signature” road win over then-No. 10 Michigan State has been degraded to a September victory over a mediocre, one-dimensional 4-3 squad. A charged night game win over preseason top-10 rival Michigan is now just a notch on the Irish belt.

The rest of the way, the Irish will face just two ranked teams, although both are road contests against top-10 foes.

With the now diminished schedule, Notre Dame will not be able to hop over an undefeated SEC champion, an unblemished Kansas State team or an 13-0 Oregon squad – who would have topped Stanford, USC and Oregon State.

That’s where style points come in.

The BCS computers will tell you that margin of victory does not matter but the pollsters will tell you otherwise. It definitely matters if a team ekes out a 2-point win in triple overtime or if a squad wins in a 50-point blowout.
Likewise, if there is a loss, the way you lose is important – whether it’s a goal line stand or a six-touchdown drubbing.

If Notre Dame’s ultimate goal is to make the national title game in Miami (and it should be now), they need to rack up style points like a GQ model. As it currently stands, the Irish are almost assured of a BCS bowl appearance if they finish 4-2 in the last half of the season.

Problem is that the Irish and coach Brian Kelly ignore the rankings.

“I really don’t care,” Kelly said. “I’m sorry. I know all of our fans care a lot about that stuff and that’s great.”

Style points and running up the score are very distinct, though, and have vastly different intentions. In 40-point wins over Navy and Miami, the Irish did not run up the score, despite what the final score indicated.

They repeatedly ran the ball, piling up yards and points on their way to dominating victories over inferior opponents. They did not throw the ball around the yard up three scores in the final quarter.

So in games against lesser opponents like BYU, Pittsburgh, Boston College and Wake Forest, the Irish need to put on a similar showing.

None of those four teams are as good as the Irish. Heck, they may even struggle to compete with Notre Dame. So Notre Dame’s goals should not just be to win against those teams, it should be to win big.

Could Notre Dame struggle to put up points against some of those teams? Sure, especially with an inconsistent offense led by two quarterbacks and three running backs. Could one of those teams upset the Irish? Of course, this is college football.

Could the Irish run the table and still be left out of the title game? Maybe, but a little bit of style will go a long way for Notre Dame.

Contact Matthew DeFranks at mdefrank@nd.edu

The views in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.